Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Final Solution.

MacTavish Cup Final 2006
Kingussie 5 Fort William 2 (aet)

Kingussie may have stuttered in the Premier League so far this season but a vintage display of goal scoring by ace marksman Ronald Ross underlines the fact that when it comes to winning trophies the Badenoch side are in a league of their own. That said however it took Kingussie into the second half of extra time before they were finally able to overcome a physically robust Fort William side in what at times came across as a war of attrition. Referee Colin Macdonald had to reach for the yellow card on several occasions as tempers between these two evenly matched sides began to fray.
The pattern was set as early as the third minute when teenage Fort defender Duncan Rodger brought down Ross as he was bearing in on goal. A card at that point might have stabilised matters but the defender went unpunished and the free hit was frittered away. The match then settled down into a dour battle for the control of midfield in which neither side had the upper hand though pick of the bunch was Kingussie’s James Maclean at full centre whose work rate and classy movement was a reminder of the heights that the game can aspire to.
With marking extremely tight and forwards being forced to shoot harmlessly from distance it looked odds on that the first half would end without either goalkeeper having to make a save. A face injury to Kingussie defender Ian Borthwick just before half time saw him leave the field for treatment and Fort took full advantage of the extra man .
Kingussie manager Jimmy Gow attempted to plug the defensive gap by pulling Ronald Ross back but he was unable to prevent James Clark sending in a cross from the right. The ever lively Gordon Mackinnon flicked it on into the path of Chris Bamber and the Fort went in at half time with a barely deserved one goal lead.
Within 5 minutes of the restart, Kingussie were back level thanks to a fine strike from veteran Michael Clark who pounced on a poor clearance by Fort William keeper Scott McNeil. With the score even the war of attrition continued though Gary Innes who had just returned earlier in the week from a shinty coaching trip to California began to exert more influence for Fort William.
The deadlock appeared to be broken in 75 minutes when Kingussie were awarded a penalty for a foul on Ronald Ross : the big striker took the hit himself and fairly blasted the ball past McNeil to put his side into the lead.
The match was always physical but at this stage matters seemed to be on the point of anarchy and Fort Williams John MacLeod was lucky to remain on the pitch having appeared to raise his hands to Russell Dallas. To be fair to referee Macdonald however he did book Dallas for the original offence.
Fort William did not give up and if anything played their best shinty in the latter stages of normal time. Their equaliser in 82 minutes was a tribute to the perseverance of James Clark in the Fort William attack. Having just set up Victor Smith for a drive which Borthwick had done well to stop he finally got himself behind the defence onto the end of a through ball from Mackinnon and gave the keeper no chance from close range.
If Fort had competed well in normal time, the extra period belonged to Kingussie. Perhaps it was simply a matter of superior fitness but they also began to find their touch. A normal Kingussie display is as complex as a piece of Celtic knot work and with the interchanges between Kevin Thain and Ross something of the old template began to reappear in their outfield possession. First Ross glanced a ball on to the bar and then, after Ali Borthwick had been allowed an age to drive in a thunderbolt from distance, he tucked away the rebound.
Two excellent goals for Kingussie followed in quick order. A neat interchange between Ross and Borthwick was beautifully finished by Thain while right at the death Ross completed his hat-trick by squeezing the ball past McNeil from the acutest of angles.
The win makes it four MacTavish titles in a row for Kingussie and for the second year in succession Ronald Ross has notched a hat-tick in the final .It wasn’t pretty but there’s no doubt about it that when a cup is on the table and the presentation caman gleams on the podium, there is only ever one team in town.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Shinty's Untouchables-the Goal Judges

Lochaber 1 Glenurquhart 0

It is a dull afternoon in Lochaber and the midges dance in clouds above the daisies which mark out the pitch as undercut. Pine trees draw away the natural light from a pitch which is surrounded by high netting to prevent shinty balls flying off the little plateau where the park is situated and disturbing the new immigrants in their freshly built and expensive residences. A scatter of cars has parked on the far side and will disgorge a handful of spectators when the game begins : in the meantime the threat of midges keeps them inside their vehicles. Both teams are out on the field going through their own versions of pre-match Tai Chi. The referee ,sombre in black, has already picked out two reluctant souls-camp followers of either team -and has just invested them with their badges of shame. Orange flags on small sticks. Without them the game can hardly function: with them in place there is every chance that the ref will be able to deflect conflict from himself. He will ask them to make decisions but will not feel himself obliged to pay attention to what they say. These two guys are in fact his newly appointed and hapless goal judges.
Standing up beside the top goal miles away from friendly faces and the loutish solidarity of the terrace (or wire fence as it is in Spean) the Goal Judge is peculiarly alone and vulnerable. His deadly enemies are the four forwards and five defenders who will be in close proximity to him throughout the afternoon. His ally ,the referee ,will be at the very best a distant figure, blowing the whistle and making incomprehensible decisions. They are incomprehensible simply because the action is happening too far away to be clearly visible. Every three or four minutes there is a flurry of activity near the goal which the judge is monitoring and a weird experience it is- there are pushes and shoves off the ball usually from the backs but the Judge wont give them. That is the prerogative of the ref. The Judge keeps his eye peeled for the ball being kicked in the box, whether it is a bye or corner and of course off sides which as everyone ought to know is when the forward goes into the D before the ball comes in.
The problem is that whenever there is a cross ball, the goalie and full back always shout “Sides” Now it does not matter which goalie or full back is there : that is what they all shout. If you have seen it you give it: if you cannot see the D because the line is too faint you may not give it- and there are endless variations of a close call in 90 minutes of shinty . Worse than that that even in the most innocent of cases of a miscall the defenders put the Judge under pressure long after the situation is closed.
There is another draw back too-the Judge cannot really see the whole pattern of the game. The far end of the pitch might as well be in Serbia for all that he can know about the happenings there. When Keith Neville scored there was a flurry of movement as if on a distant battlefield and then a shout of triumph. The goalie roared encouragement as did Lochaber full back Ricky Fraser : the judge surmised a goal to have been scored. It apparently was.
Half time conversation revealed it to have been a good goal in the sense of being well taken but that the goalie had claimed it off for “Sides”. It most probably wasn't. Goalies never lose fair goals -in their heads the forwards are always offside.
On the other hand when there is an attack the Judge watches the ball come in but with half an eye to an offence .Thus,when the right winger has the ball the conscientious Judge is looking along the D to see if the unwary forward will step in-a habit that definitely removes pleasure from the business of spectating.
You see the game through a fish eye lens and also have the added pleasure of disturbing the midges in the long grass as you hunt for a wayward shinty ball There are stock fences topped with barbed wire to climb and you must never forget to keep an extra ball in your pocket to throw out onto the field when a forward has just blasted the incumbent into the middle of the Lochaber countryside and it disappears forever from view. Given that we are in Lochaber, it is more than probable that 1000 years from now some futuristic archaeologist will come across hundreds of these wayward shinty balls preserved in the peat hags which surround the pitch and speculate as to their ritualistic origins.
To the game- at the end of the particular first half tunnel where the Judge viewed the action the Glen had a fair bit of territory but little direct impact. I counted four balls which Morrison had to deal with- two of them from Arran Macdonald . The rest whistled harmlessly past. Of the four, Morrison cleaned away three very neatly the fourth broke out to the forwards and let us say did not end up as a goal when it should have.
A number of other attacks showed good shinty, nice passing, some excellent bits of skill but the backs eventually knocked the forwards out of the way which is what they are meant to do and belted the ball up the field. In one skirmish David Smart took a heavy hit near the knee but it did not seem to hold him back and he put up a number of neat balls though, in the end , they remained unconverted.
In the second half, Lochaber did not do much better-they did have a flurry of corners and the goalie had to get his hand to three shots which he dismissed well-he did not give the incoming forwards second phase chances, but then he rarely does.
Gregor , Stewart and Girv dug in and were pretty ruthless with the Lochaber forwards; they knocked them out of the way which is I suppose is what they are meant to do while Andrew Macdonald played stylish accurate shinty and simply gave the buckshee forward no chance to excel. It was a typically robust and skilful Glen defensive performance.
There was one shot of note- Sean Nicholson had an excellent drive from the right which rocketed at the goalie-he put up his club and deflected it for a corner. Excellent-but its what he went to goalie school for : that is why he has been Scotland‘s under 21 keeper and if we could only produce a Premier standard side to match him, it is why he would be Scotland’s senior keeper too.
At the other end the distant shouts and roars plus the fact that the Lochaber forwards did not see the ball for a considerable spell indicated that the Glen were playing a bit up front too. They certainly were. But they did not score. Again.
Still respect to the goal judges. They had to observe that pain at close quarters.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Staggies at Bay-Not Likely

Caberfeidh 1 Glenurquhart 1

I mused about the opening for a while. The book of “Good Starts” was no real help. I almost resorted to the following-”There may have been a flower festival taking place in Strathpeffer Church on Saturday but there were no pansies on the field at Castle Leod.” Not quite right , I thought ,in this modern politically correct world. PC must touch shinty too or shinty will not touch the world.
Then my mind went back to the front cover of my original edition of “Camanachd” by Roger Raasay. Here we see a swirl of the early 19th century Cromartie tenantry swiping at a ball which the artist has omitted to paint clearly but must be in the ruck below the kilted behemoth in the middle. His club is at a murderous angle and he must be bringing it down on a ball, though given that Castle Leod is in the background then that assumption ain’t necessarily true. What is intriguing however is that two players are running off the ball out to the wing and always assuming that they simply haven’t just lost their bottle and are running back to the safety of the Heights .Here we have a painter who actually saw a real game and that game was always more subtle than critics give it credit for.
So instead of faffing about looking for a perfect opening-unlike the team itself- I simply start with the thought that against Cabers the Glen chucked away an opportunity to pocket both points and that after an excellent outing against Newtonmore the week before.
By the time I had negotiated the busy streets of the Spa town and had driven into the pitch Lewis Maclennan had scored a penalty. At that stage and indeed throughout the match the team played tidily and well. The forwards were doing their interchanging very competently but the final ball was never quite on target , a pity because the lead up play was highly competent. A shorter swing and a little more accuracy would not hinder and more strikes on goal would help.
The President was counting shots. I cannot remember how many he computed but I do remember thinking that the figure was not high enough. If you have four shots at goal perhaps you should score one but only if the four tries make the goalie work. Still the President is sympathetic too because it is his opinion that our spectators put too much pressure on the young players to move the ball blindly forward and are perhaps not appreciative enough of what they are trying to build. I know what he is saying and the players are young and things can only get better. They are actually all personally playing a high standard of shinty in respect of ball control and hitting. Indeed the defence is of a very high quality especially given the level at which we are playing and the youthfulness of the squad.
While we murdered Cabers 1-1 in the first half , a veil must be drawn over the uncharacteristic state of defensive confusion and error which allowed Ruaraidh Maclennan to steal an equaliser in 25 minutes.
The second half saw the Staggies up their game and I do admire the fact that they player a simpler form of the “indigenous”than we do. They are hard in the tackle , they hit the ball well and while they are able to work the angles if they get the ball to buckshee forward they let fly. To that effect the goalie had to look lively once or twice and he made some excellent stops but that is why he wears the jersey and not anyone else. We continued to move forward -not helped by the fact that Paul Mackintosh had to come off at half-time as a result of going over his ankle in a dip in the ground- but while we had one shot on target and a clutch of corners ,too often we made life tough only for the biorans in the stream behind the bottom goal.
The Acme Thunderer was blown vigorously ; the players shook hands: the President remarked that perhaps we are only happy to put pressure on the shop.
Yes the shop. That’s right-the Baker’s shop, The VG, the Costcutter-whatever you call that piece of late 1960s utilitarian architecture . It is not only a shinty target but the true soul of the modern Glen. Whenever we shoot towards the shop we do better.
Indeed, it might be an idea to get a huge cardboard cut-out of the shop and place it directly behind our opponents’ goals. That way the boys will feel at home even when they are away. Just a thought……

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Neutered ‘More

Camanachd Cup
Glenurquhart 1 Newtonmore 2

Its been a week of lying in a dark room trying to come to terms with the horror of the situation. No not me. Its Rik and Brick who have been undergoing therapeutic counselling over the fact that their team of Ubermenschen from the High Chaparral struggled to defeat a side from a lower league, albeit a side that loves the beautiful game so much it refuses to score anything less than the perfect goal. That came in 85 minutes when a combination of trickery from Corrigan and Lewis Maclennan led to the ball being placed on to Mike Ritchie in the ‘More goal.
I could hardly believe we were being so crude. I wanted some keepy -up , a ball across, perhaps an overlap by full back Gregor McCormack and finally a poke into the corner of the net reminiscent of a Dott in with a snooker cue-but only after keeper and full back were lying mesmerised on the ground. However, the ball came back across and Ruaraidh Cameron who had spent most of the afternoon wearing his jersey inside out and chattering to pensioners in the stand put it neatly in the net. I have to say Ruaraidh had been in the stand because he was “on the bench” as it were and the “bench” is in the stand. Not that he would be averse to chatting to pensioners if there were any hanging about but just so as you know the true circumstances .
“Just a tap in “ he said to me at the end.
It may only have been a tap in to Ruaraidh but if we had managed to put the ball over the line earlier it would have counted in the minds of the Glen supporters at least as a major irrigation scheme . As it was we ran out of time and sadly out of the cup.
There was always the ironic reflection that the Glen had been put out by two goals scored by a boy called Glen- and his second name Mackintosh is such that in a hundred years time it may well be thought that one of our very own backs had the misfortune to score twice in his own goals.
So the “Blue Riband “ of shinty trophies is not to be ours again this year. That expression , much favoured in “Build Up to the Camanachd Final” pieces in the National Press takes the biscuit as an old West Coast worthy was wont to say, though he used to say it of teams which began “McVitie and Price, Fox ,Huntley and Palmer” and ended up with “Simmers on the wing.”
So what about the game then? Until Glen Mackintosh got his goal in 35 minutes- and a fine drive from the right it was, high into the net- the Glen had competed well. The most intense area of the battle was in midfield : Paul Mackintosh and Dave Maclennan had their work cut out and in Paul’s case the cut was literal as John Mackenzie trailed a lazy club over his forehead in 10 minutes. However they competed well and had every bit as much of the ball up as the Newtonmore men had. At full centre Arran Macdonald had an excellent opening period so much so that Ricky Ross moved up front certainly because he took a knock but more truthfully because he found Arran just too sure on the ball . His replacement, David Cheyne was more mobile than Ross and although his absence meant that the Newtonmore front men were not shooting successfully his full centre shift kept Arran more occupied than was good for the Glen and especially in the second half meant that the Glen did not really have the territorial advantage they would have wished.
One other thought-Norman Campbell and especially Danny Macrae don’t ever give up and their massive hitting from defence as well as Mackenzie’s shies-I’d rather play with him than against him-was a feature of the match. That said Corrigan was excellent for long spells- particularly neat was a touch over Macrae’s head and a neat lay off when he got beyond him. He was hacked down on several occasions -on one the book should have come out- but to be fair the match didn’t have the edge of a dirty game.
Newtonmore just seemed in places to have more menace on the ball but that may well be a judgement made from having seen the Glen fail to test goalkeepers despite having possession of the ball in their opponent’s half . We are not simple enough. That said the rotating forward line- no man stays where he is for any length of time and the switch play is continual and continuous-will begin to become second nature. The front men are young and they will mature into this sophisticated pattern-only problem the final drive must make the keeper work and that includes the long range ones from the centre line.
If I have to praise one man it has to be Andrew Macdonald. If a moment summed up his match it was tapping the ball through his legs to outwit Cheyne . He also had the vision to touch it round Ricky Ross and pick it up on the other side. His hitting has been crisp and long and his pace gets him to the ball. He has been bred for summer shinty -put him in a heavy challenge in the November gutters and he will be battered off the ball-give him a dry pitch and a moving ball and he becomes the player we saw in Macdonald Cups ten years ago. Stewart Morrison at wing back was also excellent-the years rolled away and he looked as if he were back on the Bught in ‘88 where he had his finest hour and a half..
The Goalkeeper was equally superb- he got his club to about four difficult ones and cleared away any number of other dodgy ones : but Newtonmore made him work. Pause for effect. The one he lost in 78 minutes he almost stopped, fine stroke though it was.
Then of course we had our traditional surge towards the shop. Too late.
So the Camanachd Cup will not be on display in Paterson’s Stores this winter nor will it grace the counter of the Blarmor. However, if we keep at it and this team matures then we can make it through. After that anything can happen. There are after all only four matches to win before we get the civic reception in the Town House. Who knows ? We might even get Team of the Month that year.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A (Little) Roar for Newtonmore.

This is a Glen Team of 1902 which stood up to Newtonmore. These striped jerseys are black and red.Take heart.
I say this because it is difficult to know what to say when you have to play a home game against a side which is rediscovering its pedigree and has just come off a 6-2 win against Kingussie except to whisper under your breath “Bring it on” and hope that they are not really listening.
Well we have been in a Camanachd Cup final before : so have they- a few times I believe . Once upon a time we used to beat them when they came to Drum- 6-2 I recall on one occasion -but not that that won us anything.
I believe they are now being trained by some inspirational guru and that they have finally begun to try in this summer shinty business . Not only that but they have Ricky Ross travelling up from Preston and Orsten Gardiner coming up from London so they are nearly as dedicated to the cause as we are.
However, we are at home and we have the tradition. The President however in an act of supreme fairness has cut the grass : on reflection it might have been better for him to have put down some fertiliser on it to encourage it to grow long and lush in the very spots where Fraser Mackintosh is wont to run. Our friend the mole too should have been cajoled to play his part by rendering the top side of the field over by the bowling green rough and uneven . That way running shinty can not be played and a good thing too.
While wishing to make a little note that the other team defeated Lochbroom 4-1 last Saturday I have to confess that the game to come has been preying upon what passes for my mind. Still credit to all the scoring Neils and to Ally Mack who not only notched a goal but got his name in the West Highland Free Press too.-though that is a dubious honour. I also believe that the boys had to play on sea turf too with a former Kinlochshiel Fraser at fullback against them.
Hendo counted them all out: he was lucky to be able to count them all back in.
Now here’s a question for the Shinty Quiz- Which team was the first to beat all of the new teams in North shinty?
Why Hendo’s Glen Heroes of course.
A win against Nairn, a scrape against Ardnamurchan and finally a squeak against Lochbroom and the Neils make shinty history. Well done.
Team of the month? Hardly. The Glen doesn’t do Team of the Month.
Anyway there’s a snap of a Glen team that gave Newtonmore a run for their money. The year was 1902 . The occasion was the MacTavish final and these guys drew 3-3 in Inverness which means that had they played at home the boys would have won. They are looking very ned-like in their prototype tweed baseball caps and I may be wrong but I think that we can see Billy Reid in the front row third left hiding behind his moustache. Again uncertainty rules but the consensus is that the chap in the back row two in from the right is none other than Ron Fraser. However since he is wearing the obligatory headwear his distinctive hairstyle is uncheckable. Geordie of course is unmissable.
Nothing to fear from newtonmore then- our team has qualities of durability that Newtonmore will ignore at their peril. We didn’t suffer in the Clearances either but they did. So there. Only perhaps they did not suffer enough. So there again.

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